Syrian trip leader says Government is ‘not listening to Syrian people’

THE UK Government is ‘not listening to the people of Syria’, a prominent church leader has said.

The Rev Andrew Ashdown added: “We don’t engage with Syria at all.” The Hampshire cleric led the recent, controversial, visit to Syria by a group of church leaders including Bishop Michael Langrish and Baroness Cox (pictured).

He said: “Around 85 per cent of the population of Syria are in Government-held territory. The 6.9 million internally displaced in Syria, where have they fled from and to? They have fled from the rebel-held territory to the government-held territory where they are being looked after by the Syrian Government and charities.

“I am convinced that our Government sources are all with the opposition and are linked to our allies: including Saudi Arabia and Qatar.”

As a result, the British public were ‘not getting the full picture’. Following his recent trip to Syria he reported that many Syrian soldiers felt that the West were supporting the opposition groups, although they claimed that it was the Government forces that were protecting the plurality of diversity in Syria. They believed they were ‘protecting Europe from Islamism’.

“A writer said to me in Damascus a few weeks ago, I am a Muslim and I speak to you as a Muslim, ‘Don’t worry about us Muslims in Syria, you in England, you need to worry about the Christians’. He said that the West needed to ‘support our Government, to support the Christians in Islam, because if you don’t the whole framework of our society and the Middle East will be destroyed’. “He said to me that when you have lost Christianity in Syria, you will lose Christianity is Europe as well.”

He also described as ‘farce’ that Western media and governments label certain groups as moderate.

The priest, who is a regular visitor to Syria, told an audience that ‘there are many, many stories that contradict the national media’. Since 2014, Mr Ashdown has undertaken five visits to Syria. In 2016, he led a group of Peers and faith leaders on a visit to the country and became the first British group to visit Aleppo since the beginning of the conflict.

He said that, contrary to reports, ‘very few Syrians now
regard any of the groups as moderate’. “The Syrians themselves say: ‘Don’t talk to us about moderate rebels, they don’t exist’.” He said.

“There are groups that are fighting against each other. I think there are moderates, but if there are moderates they are a small minority, highly ineffectual, and they’re vastly dominated by the extremists who are funded.”

He told the audience in London that there are 80 different nationalities fighting in Syria, heavily funded by the Saudi and Qatar governments.

“I was in Aleppo, and three days before it fell, all the Western media left. Why?” He also said media reporting had been selective. While it was widely reported that 1.5 million people in Western Aleppo were being bombed and shelled constantly, it was omitted that this was from the rebels in Eastern Aleppo.

“That was never mentioned,” he said.

Mr Ashdown said that three weeks ago he went to see Omran Daqnees, a Syrian boy whose images were allegedly used as propaganda against President Bashar al-Assad.

“There was a shell, his brother was killed, he received a small injury on his head, he was placed by White Helmets in an ambulance, he was forced to sit there for 40 minutes while they took photographs of him.

“There was no help whatsoever, he was eventually removed, he wasn’t treated at all. Later, international media offered his father thousands of dollars to say that he didn’t support the government and he refused to accept it,” Mr Ashdown claimed.